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Invictus Games remind us that spiritual strength conquers despair

Last week, my husband and I and our daughter, Johanna, were glued to the television watching the Invictus Games. If you missed them, check out the highlight videos and stories here.

The Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, ill and injured veterans from countries all over the world. The competition was founded by Prince Henry of England, after he was inspired by the Warrior Games, a similar competition in the United States.

The word invictus is a Latin adjective meaning “unconquered, invincible.” The word is also the title of a poem written by the English poet, William Ernest Henley in the late 1800s. The poem highlights the strength of the human spirit in the midst of great adversity. I read that the author himself contracted tuberculosis and had to have his leg amputated and had multiple surgeries to save the other leg as well. The poem was his reflection on this dark time and the strength he chose to conquer the despair.

You can watch a video of the participants reciting the whole poem on the Invictus Games website above. The last two lines from the poem capture the theme and essence of the Invictus Games. They read:

“I am the master of my fate.

I am the captain of my soul”

2016_0519_Invictus Games_ Benthal Eileen

The branding of the games highlights the second “I” in  and the “a” and “m” in games, to form the statement “I AM”, as a reminder of these final thoughts in the last stanza of the poem. I was immediately attracted to the televised sporting event, because of the stories of strength in adversity and because the words, “I AM” leaped out from their logo.

I could not help but recall the numerous times the words, “I AM” appear in both the Old and New Testament as God’s own revelation on the very nature of God. In fact, the very first time that God speaks to Moses, God reveals his own name as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14.) From there, every time those words are used in scripture in reference to God, they hearken back to the reality that God is “all in all,” over all and through all, unconquerable and undiminishable throughout all ages. God is always with us.

Jesus fulfills this revelation of God numerous times throughout the gospels. The Gospel of John provides beautiful statements on the nature of God as Jesus begins them with “I am:

“the good shepherd’(Jn. 10:11),

“the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35),

“the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).

As we watched those veteran athletes compete, we were moved to tears by their determination, their strength and their conviction. They raced on wheelchairs, ran on prosthetic limbs, some with pain visible on their faces. Some of the athletes bore their wounds on the inside, suffering from PTSD and anxiety that have plagued them since facing the tragedies of war. All of them were more concerned about inspiring each other to do their best than about winning the sports’ competition. There were numerous instances of participants slowing down or waiting to encourage a teammate who had been left behind in the struggle to complete a race to the finish.

Though the sports competitions were both fierce and inspiring, the stories behind the athletes were even more gripping and life changing. Their poignant stories are recounted in the videos online. If you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I encourage you to watch some of these veteran athletes share their stories. They are sure to give you hope.

As for me, the Invictus Games were another reminder that “I Am” speaks loudly in and through the tragedies of our lives. In particular, I believe the Lord’s grace is revealed in a very powerful way through children and adults with disabilities.

Raising a child with disabilities has taught me to appreciate life in a way that no other experience in my life has done thus far. I appreciate the normal and mundane days of routines that are not interrupted by visits to the emergency room, brain surgeries or long hospital stays. My life is truly never boring. Some days I wish it were.

I appreciate the sounds of the birds’ songs and the sun shining on my face even while we walk to the car, because it takes longer to get the car when my daughter is with me. Even when I am in a rush, she slows me down. If I don’t fight the pace, there are more gifts to discover in the extra time it takes to get where we are going.

Certainly, there are days when the battle seems longer and requires more endurance than a race or a sports competition. On those days, God reminds me that I am not alone. Last week, the inspiration came through watching these veteran athletes put their best feet forward, even if they were prosthetic, and seeing them push on to win the race with whatever strength they had to compete.

This week, my inspiration came through a card I found in a pile of papers long discarded in a box under my desk. The prose spoke of recognizing that in the battles of life we are never alone. God is always with us. The card was signed with a personal message from my mom. She wrote, “While I can’t do anything to help you right now, I want you to know that I am praying for you and you are never alone.”

The message I find in the veteran athletes’ competitions and stories, in raising a child with disabilities and in a card sent from heaven, all remind me that we are not conquered by our struggles. The same God who is “I Am” is with us  – in the periods of battle and in the rest. Because of this truth, I know we are invincible and we are never alone.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.

Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs.

Eileen can be reached at CareforaCaregiver.com.


Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen